Last week I shared my review of the wonderful The Water Child, and this week I get to share an interview with the author! Ellen McGinty is a mother, a homemaker, a writer, a curious nomad, and a pastor’s wife. She resides in Japan. When asked what her favorite thing about living in Japan is, she responded, “Ah, a single favorite thing!? If I had to pick one it would be onsen. There is something truly beautiful and unique about traditional public baths in Japan. I think every single book I write will have at least one onsen scene! But I also love the importance of season in Japan, riding my handy ‘dendo assist’ bicycle, the slow nature of friendships and the history of this island. And if I’m completely trivial I think gatchapon are pretty fun!” In her free time she enjoys hiking, reading outside, and exploring coffee shops. An interesting fact about McGinty is that she survived being struck by lightning at a firework festival! Continue reading below to learn more about McGinty and her writing.
Q) How long have you been writing?
A) I wrote my first picture book in kindergarten and tried to sell it in lieu of the traditional lemonade stand! But serious writing started after college.
Q) Why do you write?
A) I’ve always loved story. As a child I digested all the books I could get my
hands on and spent my spare time dreaming of new stories. Later I discovered that the stories I liked best were about redemption and transformation. I often get dreams or characters stuck in my mind that turn into stories and I just have to write them!
Q) What are your top three favorite books and why?
A) Books that have irrevocably inspired me:
- Les Misérables: themes and incredible characters
- Bleak House: gorgeous prose and family mystery
- Shiokari Pass: beautiful story of redemption and priceless writing by an author who wrote through hardship.
Q) Who is someone that inspires you?
A) My grandfather. Growing up I thought he was a real life Indiana Jones and I wasn’t far off. He inspired me to live my dreams and always explore.
Q) What inspired The Water Child?
A) A dream. A little girl and her mother walked through an old shrine on the mountainside. Water trickled in, tugging at their ankles. But the mother didn’t notice. As the water rose, the girl cried out for her mother to lift her from the water and save her. But the mother waded to the shrine altar, deaf to the daughter’s cries. The little girl refused to give up and swam after her mother until she drowned. I had no idea the tsunami had occurred until I trudged into the office that morning. At that time, my in-laws lived in Japan and I immediately had flashbacks to 9/11 when my father was in the Pentagon and I didn’t know if he was dead or alive. Phones stopped working. We waited, not knowing. To this day, I can still taste the dust in the air from the plane crash. It looked like snow. Were my in-laws alive? What could I do? I started writing some of the stories they told me, also things I’d experienced in Japan when I visited the previous year (like the first train scene in the book). Eventually I decided to turn that dream about the tsunami into a book.
Q) In the author’s note you say, “I hope this story is a way for you to listen.” Listening is
important for healing – how else can people help others? Are there still ways to contribute to the healing from the 2011 earthquake?
A) Absolutely! Right now due to covid it’s difficult to travel, but supporting the tourism industry in Tohoku is a big step forward for the areas recovery. If you have a chance to visit Japan please make a stop in Tohoku! There are also businesses to support that directly impact the community such as Nozomi Project . Another way to help is to share the story, whether it’s a book like The Water Child or another book that educates the next generation about what happened on 3/11. You can also request books about 3/11 in your local library!
Q) Courage is a huge theme in your book. Was this something you planned to incorporate in the story or did it unfold as the story was written?
A) I think it unfolded as I wrote, but it was also present in that very first dream I had about Tora. This girl searching for her mom, unmoved by the water pressing against her and the debris. Courage is single-focused like that, it moves toward its goal regardless of the obstacles. Even when you can’t feel, courage tells you to move forward, to not give up.
Q) Can you tell readers about your current WIP (Writing in Progress)?
A) It’s a YA fantasy blend of Les Misérables and Demon Slayer about two sisters escaping an arctic prison only to find the outside world far more dangerous than they’d imagined. It’s still in the works but I absolutely love this world and the main characters!
Q) What goals do you have for your writing?
A) I’d love to finish my WIP (which will most likely be a trilogy) and I have two other standalone projects begging to be written (one of them inspired by the lightning strike I survived). I’m a fairly slow writer so I think it’s a rather big goal for me! One reason I write slowly is that I have health issues that can be unpredictable and I’m
passionate about cheering on other authors who wrestle with time management and health. There are a lot of great authors in similar shoes and it’s encouraging to hear their stories of dealing with autoimmune illness, mental health, or whatever it may be while maintaining a writing career. But if no one speaks out about it, those stories will be buried. I think this is something the writing community is getting better about.
Q) You are an indie published author. Will you tell us a little about your experience?
A) I set out to traditionally publish The Water Child, had a spectacular critique group, won several pitch contests, and found an agent. And although there was a lot of interest in my first book, it didn’t sell and I moved on to write something else. But The Water Child stuck with me as I book I wanted out in the world. When my mother had stage four cancer last year, I decided it was time to self-publish. I’m so grateful for a supportive writing community, literary agent, and the many people who helped me make this dream a reality. I worked really hard over the span of a few short months while taking care of my mom and The Water Child was born! Through this whole process, I learned that many traditionally published authors are actually hybrid authors with books in both markets. I also made new indie author friends and found more freedom in my writing.
Q) What advice would you offer aspiring authors?
A) Find your writing tribe! Nothing can replace good writing friends who will critique pages, encourage, speak truth, and challenge you to keep going.
Q) Is there anything else you would like to add?
A) Thank you so much for having me!